Neglecting your mental health is a silent killer that will cripple your quality of life. Increased stress, anxiety, and frustration can even lead to mental illness if ignored.
Just as your physical fitness and health depend on avoiding detrimental habits, there are destructive mental habits you need to avoid. Here are seven simple practices for a healthy, happy mind:
1. When you start “catastrophic thinking,” notice. Try to process a situation objectively.
When unforeseen complications arise, we tend to default to the “worst-case scenario” — getting an email from your boss automatically means you’re about to get fired. It’s an exaggerated defense mechanism, according to evolutionary psychologists; these fearful thoughts are supposed to steer you away from ever doing anything detrimental.
Here’s the thing about catastrophic thinking: It’s irrational. It causes your brain to produce cortisol and create stress. The key is to prevent your mind from jumping to conclusions. Process a situation objectively, as it unfolds, with the information you have at hand. Don’t let your mind start playing with hypotheticals.
2. Train yourself to be decisive. (It’s easier than it sounds.)
Whether it’s an important decision, or simply the question of what to have for dinner, people experience anxiety when making decisions. Decision paralysis comes from being presented with too many options. While we think it’s more desirable to have more options, it actually inhibits your ability to decide.
To overcome this mental hurdle, you need to clarify your “non-negotiables” before you make a decision. What’s the most important element required for you to be satisfied? Then, use the “3-2-1” rule: From all the options you have, choose the best three that match your criteria, then the best two, then make a decision.
3. When feelings of doubt arise, turn to your journal.
It’s that voice of doubt that creeps in every time you take on a major venture or pursue a goal. The voice tells you that you’re not good enough, that you’re not qualified, that you’re a fraud — despite the evidence that you’re more than competent. One cause psychologists have identified for this condition is overly critical parenting. Children of critical parents internalize that voice.
One way to overcome it is to keep a journal of your achievements. Whenever feelings of doubt and fraudulence come, silence that voice by looking back at what you’ve accomplished.
4. Escape the mind smog.
While the link between cellphone use and cancer is still hotly debated, there’s no doubt that exposure to electromagnetic waves has an effect on your mind. We’re constantly exposed to non-ionizing radiation from power lines, cellphone towers, and wireless devices; and microwave frequencies below can penetrate the outer layers of your skin.
Give your mind a daily break from the smog of technology. To some extent, it’s unavoidable, but for the sake of your mental health, give yourself at least a one-hour technology timeout. Take a walk in the park, and leave your phone behind.
5. Flex your mental muscles.
A healthy mind is a focused and fit mind. We live in a world of distractions; not being able to concentrate and get work done is a major source of frustration and anxiety. Work on building your focus muscles.
Meditative practices that focus on uninterrupted breathing are highly effective, as is committing to uninterrupted writing, for at least 30 minutes every morning.
6. Hack your happy chemicals.
The way your brain regulates and releases neurochemicals affects the way you feel. When you’re feeling stressed and anxious, you can help your brain alleviate and override those feelings — it’s been shown that even a forced smile will cause your brain to release endorphins.
Giving someone a hug will give you a rush of the “love hormone,” oxytocin; the smell of lavender and vanilla, and the taste of dark chocolate all stimulate the release of endorphins.
Rather than waiting to feel better, sometimes you’ve got to make it happen.
7. End your day on a high note.
Gratitude practices are incredibly powerful and beneficial for your mental health. Studies have shown that people who consistently practice gratitude have stronger immune systems, are more optimistic, compassionate, and happy, and feel less lonely and isolated.
Before you nod off to sleep tonight, think of five things you’re grateful for. Make it a daily practice.